VIRGIN — If you’re in the right spot at the right time, one of the largest and rarest birds in the world might soar directly over your head.
On July 14, the Division of Wildlife Resources will host its annual California condor viewing event. Dubbed “The Day of the Condor,” the free event runs from 8 a.m. to noon at a spot on the Kolob Reservoir Road two miles south of the reservoir. The viewing site is 21 miles north of Virgin in southwestern Utah.
Those who have attended the event in past years have been thrilled to watch condors soar in the sky above them. “To give yourself the best chance to see the greatest number of birds,” said Keith Day, wildlife biologist for the DWR, “get to the viewing site as early as possible.”
To reach the viewing site, take state Route 9 to Virgin. Then turn north at the Kolob Reservoir turnoff in Virgin, and travel through Zion National Park. The viewing site is 21 miles from Virgin near Kolob Reservoir.
After you’ve traveled 21 miles, look for DWR staff directing cars into a parking area on the south side of the road.
Biologists from the DWR, the National Park Service and The Peregrine Fund will be available to answer your questions. Free information about condors will also be available.
If you’d like to see a preview of the type of bird you’ll watch at this year’s event, a free video — Flying giants—rare California condors return to Utah skies — is waiting for you on the DWR’s YouTube page.
A condor viewing hotspot
Day said condor activity in Utah has increased dramatically since 2005. “During the summer months, it’s not unusual for more than 30 birds to be in Utah. And some condors stay through the winter,” he said. “In the past, more than 60 condors have been tracked in the Zion National Park area during a single day.”
When you consider how rare California condors are, seeing that many condors in southern Utah is exciting. “The world’s California condor population numbers 414 birds,” Day said. “More than half of those birds are free flying. And about one third of the free-flying birds are found in Utah and Arizona.
“That means on any given day,” he said, “nearly one quarter of the world’s wild California condor population could be right here in southern Utah.”
A large and unique bird
The California condor is the largest flying bird in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s about four to five feet long from head to tail. That makes the bird impressive to see, even when it isn’t flying. But, with a wingspan of about 9 feet, and weighing between 16 and 23 pounds, condors are especially impressive in flight.
Adults are a dull black with white coloring under their wings. Their bald heads are covered with yellow, orange and red skin.
Young condors have a black head and don’t have white under their wings like the adults do. But they’re about the same size as the adults. On the ground or in the air, the young condors are just as impressive to see as the adults are.
Taking care of their young
Condors usually reach maturity when they’re six to seven years old. When they reach that age, they choose a mate. They usually remain with that mate for the rest of their life.
Condors lay a single egg on the floor of a small cave or crevice on the side of a cliff. Both parents help incubate the egg. It takes about 56 days for the egg to hatch.
After the egg hatches, the young condor will remain near its nest for about two to three months. It won’t fledge (take its first flight) until it’s five or six months old.
The young condor’s parents will take care of it for a full year, and sometimes even longer. Because of their devotion to their young, condors don’t nest every year. Instead, they nest every two years.
For more information about the Day of the Condor viewing event, call the DWR’s Southern Region office at 435-865-6100.